Malware hitches a ride on digital devices

In the frame

Keeping malicious code off of consumer products is a serious issue, said Larry Landry, a software expert and digital-picture frame expert at Eastman Kodak. Landry was frank about the chances of any manufacturer eliminating the risk of accidental infection: A company cannot rule out an infection in the factory, but it can make the probability of such an incident very unlikely, he said.

"Kodak works very closely with our suppliers to see that they have the latest version of antivirus software on the manufacturing systems," Landry said. "We also ask that any PCs in the factory are not connected to the Internet."

Kodak is not among the manufacturers whose products were allegedly compromised by the Trojan horse program.

Following the report of an infected digital photo frame on Christmas Day, the Internet Storm Center called for more information and turned a single incident into a steady drip, if not a flood, of anecdotes from consumers. Other devices that reportedly came with a viral hitchhikers included hard drives, MP3 players and music-playing sunglasses.

While a compromise at the manufacturer is the most likely scenario, ISC's Sachs also pointed to retailers as a possible point of infection. Returned products, which could have been infected by the consumer, are frequently put back on the shelf, if they are in sale-able condition, and attackers could take advantage of a store's poor digital hygiene, he said.

"Trying to (infect a product) all the way back at the factory - getting it through all the checks and balances -- would be pretty hard to do," he said. "But doing it at the store, where there might be loose return policies, and (where) they put it back on the shelf - you are not going to get a million infections, but you might get a person from an investment bank next door."

Yet, among the major threats to consumers' PCs and data, infection by a consumer product is a relatively minor one, said Mikko Hyppönen, chief research officer for antivirus firm F-Secure, adding: "It'll happen."

Consumers will have to be careful with any device that can be connected to a PC, including USB thumb drives, GPS devices, mobile phones, video players, set top boxes, portable hard drives, memory card readers, and eventually even microwave ovens and other appliances, he said.

Wal-Mart, the owner of Sam's Club, told the ISC that its security team had randomly checked several dozen picture frames and did not find additional infections, Sachs said. A representative of Wal-Mart reached by SecurityFocus could not immediately comment on the issue.

This article originally appeared in Security Focus.

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